Smart idea? Only time will tell

Sep 29, 2011, 07:40 IST | Shashank Rao

In a bid to tackle the menace of errant auto and taxi drivers who rig meters and refuse fares, transport body plans to upgrade card readers, which can read the history of their offences, stored in special licences

In a bid to tackle the menace of errant auto and taxi drivers who rig meters and refuse fares, transport body plans to upgrade card readers, which can read the history of their offences, stored in special licences

Every action has an equal an opposite reaction. Desperately seeking ways to discipline errant auto rickshaw and cab drivers, and level the playing field after last week's excruciating transport strike, the state government is planning to upgrade its existing smart card system, and use it to document offences committed against commuters.

Crackdown: RTO officials recently nabbed 97 auto drivers for tampering
their meters. In response to the crackdown, the drivers conducted a
brazen two-day strike holding the city to ransom. PICS for representation

Smart-card licences contain details like the photo-identity, signature and thumb impression of the licencee. It also has provisions earmarked for entering traffic offences committed by the licence-holder, which can neither be deleted or altered, and can only be read with the help of a reader. Licences stand to be cancelled once the offences exceed a certain limit. Earlier these smart licences were mostly used to keep tabs on motorists who had been booked earlier for signal violation or drunken driving. But last year, the transport department began issuing these special licences to autowallahs and cabbies, so as to keep a check on their errant ways. The absence of upgraded card readers, however, has forced RTO officials and traffic cops to manually register offences, rendering the expensive venture of issuing smart cards completely ineffectual.

In a desperate bit to smooth the ruffled feathers of disgruntled citizens in the wake of last week's strike, the transport department is working to upgrade the existing software used in smart card readers. "We will remove all loopholes in the system through which auto drivers and cabbies often wriggle free. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) is incorporating the recommended changes," said S Sharma, transport secretary.

Once the software has been improved, the smart card reader will be able to access all the sundry offences committed by the driver, the common ones being refusal to ply and tampering meters. This would only mean greater accountability for over 2-lakh auto rickshaw drivers and 75,000 cab drivers in the city. As soon as an official swipes the card on his reader, the whole history of violations will be exposed to him.

The move comes in the wake of last week's paralysing two-day strike, waged by auto drivers in brazen protest of the RTO crackdown, which left hapless commuters stranded in the suburbs. Adding fuel to their 'ire' were members of the auto rickshaw unions, who undertook protest marches in support of the drivers.

Shashank Rao, member of the Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen's union appeared circumspect about the efficacy of the planned system, saying, "As the new system hasn't been implemented yet, we cannot comment on whether it will yield actual results."

A senior official from the transport department said, "We have begun the process of issuing smart cards to cabbies and autorickshaw drivers, but it will take us time to improve the software, so it can register an array of offences."

How the smart card will work
>> A 4-kb chip is installed in every smart card before it is issued to the licensee. This chip will store personal details, as well as records of past traffic offences committed by the driver.

>> Once the RTO official or traffic cop nabs an auto or taxi driver for refusing a commuter or tampering his meter, the card reader will be used to register the offense, which will then be embedded in the chip's memory. 

>> The next time that the same driver is nabbed, the official simply has to swipe the card against the reader, and immediately gets access to all the details about his past offenses. 

>> A satellite-based system will also help register all these details in a centralised database, which will be managed by the RTO.

>> The official who has apprehended the errant driver can then forward the name, license plate number, driving license number and other details to the RTO office.

>> If more than a permissible number of offenses show up, the RTO has the authority to cancel the licence.

Did you know?
In course of a campaign undertaken by MiD DAY last year, as many as 1,551 cab drivers and 1,797 auto drivers were booked for refusing commuters.

Helpline number that you can call to lodge a complaint against errant cabbies and auto drivers

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